Cast-In-Place Concrete Vs. Shotcrete: What's The Difference?
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Today, the pool shell of a commercial swimming pool can be constructed in several ways. Two of the most commonly used methods are cast in place concrete and shotcrete. The major difference between the two is quite simply the method of placement. At the end of the day, both systems, with proper design and construction, will provide a rock solid pool shell which can last for more than 40 years.
Cast in place concrete construction can be a costly and very labour intensive process. This type of construction requires additional excavation to allow workers room to install an extensive forming system for both the inside and outside of the pool walls, which is used to contain the concrete and shape the pool structure. This working room behind the forming system requires backfilling when the concrete work is complete.
Once the formwork is in place, concrete is discharged from a ready-mix truck, and transferred to the work area by way of boom pump, line pump, buggy, or down the chute directly off the back of the truck. Next, concrete is placed on the ground or in the form work, and then must be vibrated for consolidation & compaction.
Cast in place concrete forming system.
Pouring cast in place concrete.
It’s the most common type of concrete construction.
Cast-in-place concrete will result in a strong and waterproof structure with compressive strengths of 4,000 to 5,000 psi.
When properly designed and constructed, cast in place concrete results in a relatively smooth surface that will require very little surface preparation for the use of epoxy-based pool paint, tile and plaster finishes.
Cast-in-place concrete results in the most uniform surfaces possible.
Over excavation is required to allow working area behind the forming system.
Very labour intensive to form the walls.
Backfilling of the formed walls is required.
It’s harder and much more complicated to form shapes.
Generally more expensive to construct in comparison to a shotcrete pool.
The quality of a shotcrete pool can be comparable to a cast in place pool with one exception. Typically, they do not require extensive forming which often results in cost and time savings. Although the hardened properties of shotcrete are similar to conventional cast-in-place concrete, the nature of the placement process provides additional benefits, such as very fast erection, particularly on complex forms and shapes, including curved walls. Due to the speed of construction and the minimal equipment requirements, shotcrete is a very cost effective building method.
The shotcrete method utilizes concrete that is discharged from a ready-mix truck into a shotcrete pump and then pneumatically “shot” in place against a wood or earth form. To increase the velocity of the material which improves the control of the “shooting” process, accelerators and other admixtures can be added to the nozzle along with air under pressure. Because shotcrete is "shot" up against wood forms or earth, there is generally very little backfilling required.
Pool form ready for shotcrete.
Shotcrete being "shot" into place.
No over excavation required. As a result there is very little to no backfilling required.
The ability to build in very tight spaces and “free form” applications make it very simple to build pools of any shape.
Higher compressive strengths than cast-in-place concrete. Typical compressive strengths of shotcrete are in the 6,000 to 7,500 psi range
Lower construction costs.
There are fewer trained and skilled in the use of shotcrete than that of cast-in-place concrete.
The finished surface of shotcrete is rougher than a finished surface of a cast-in-place concrete pool. Additional surface preparation is required before the application of epoxy paint. As a result most shotcrete pools have a plaster finish.
Over the years, workplace fatality and injury statistics have demanded safer workplaces for its workers, and the construction industry is no exception. Statistics from the Workers Compensation Boards of Canada consistently places Construction in the top 5 of the most dangerous industries in Canada.
The silver lining is that more and more construction companies are committed to their workers safety and are pursuing the direction that health and safety will not be optional or extra, but rather integral to the company’s operations.
The aspiration for safer workplaces combined with the need for safety programming has been identified in the standards set out by COR™. Beginning in Alberta, COR™ has become a nationally-recognized measure of superior safety performance. Currently there are 168 companies across Ontario who have achieved this certification and almost 1,000 others who are in the process.
By participating in the COR™ program and being awarded certification, companies can demonstrate that their health and safety program has been developed, implemented, and evaluated on an annual basis through comprehensive internal and external audits. Intrinsic to the audit process are site visits and interviews with workers. The safety program must be a living, breathing entity within the company where both management and workers have a role in developing programming.
Each one of the 19 Ontario COR™ elements (see below) aims to ensure policies and procedures are in place to manage safety by planning work to minimize personal injury, establishing systems for early detection and COR™ rection of unsafe practices and conditions, and ensuring that they are maintained on an ongoing basis.
Health & Safety Policy
Safe Work Practices
Safe Work Procedures
Training & Communication
Investigating & Reporting
Statistics & ReCOR™ds
JOHS Rep or Committee
Return to Work
SCOR™ing is also very strict, where any item set out in the legislation requires a sCOR™ e of 100% or the company would receive an automatic fail. A minimum of 65% is needed on each individual element, in addition to an overall average of at least 80% to pass to the audit.
While many aspects of the COR™ program requires companies to go above and beyond, many of the elements are based on requirements already set forth by Provincial safety standards. Most companies should already have an Occupational Health & Safety Policy Statement as well as policies and programs regarding workplace violence and harassment, emergency procedures and return to work, that should be reviewed annually. There are also pre-existing obligations regarding training, workplace inspections, investigating and reporting incidents, first aid and worker representation in either the form of a joint occupational health and safety committee or safety representative.
The second element, Hazard Assessments, is often the most challenging as companies have to identify all of the potential hazards that exist within the company’s operations, and then jointly develop and implement ways to reduce the risk these hazards play. Effective implementation of this element lends itself nicely to the following two elements, Safe Work Practices and Safe Work Procedures, and is fundamentally intrinsic to all of the elements as it identifies how all of the requirements will fit each individual company, based on the work and structure of the organization.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Obtaining COR™ certification can also play a role in the company’s bottom line. Because buyer’s of construction have adopted it as a measure of safety performance, it provides a competitive advantage over other construction companies that do not. The effects of just one incident on a site could be very bad news financially, socially and economically. Knowing that a company is willing to go through the process to meet the industries established standards in safety can be the difference of getting jobs, or not.
COR™ certification can also open the doors to bid on more jobs. In today’s industry some of the top construction companies or certain sectors will not even allow a company to bid on a project if they are not COR™ certified.
COR™ certification can be an asset if you let it. It's a good way to establish your company in the industry that proves you care about safety in all aspects of your business. At the end of the day this safety standard is place to protect the company’s most valuable assets, all of its workers.
Comparing James Bond to Pool Bonding may be farfetched, and when thinking about pools, these words would be near the bottom of the list of safety features people may think of. But, like a secret double agent, Pool Bonding acts like an invisible body guard, keeping unsuspecting swimmers safe from the hidden, evil Electrical Shock! And like any good super hero, a trusty side kick is needed, and that’s where “Grounding” comes in. Together, Bonding and Grounding form an invincible super duo, and act as one of the most important aspects to a safe swimming environment when designing and constructing a pool system, secretly keeping the people of the pool safe from the insidious dangers of Electrical Shock.
As mentioned, every Super Hero needs a side kick, and when guarding from harmful electrical currents, this case is no different. “Bonding” and Grounding” each have their own jobs, and each are needed to keep the pool area safe.
BONDING. POOL BONDING.
Bonding’s super power is an important one. It joins all electrical pool components and metal components within five feet of the pool together to a thick copper wire, whether it's a mechanical item such as a recirculation pump, simple deck items such as a grab rail or stanchion post, or even unseen items like reinforcing rod encased within the pools concrete walls, forming a safety loop. This safety loop ensures all items have the same voltage, eliminating the possibility of voltages being transferred from the pool to a swimmer, instead containing them within the safety loop, and directing them back to a panel. If needed, a breaker on the panel will trip, dissipating the harmful current within the loop.
GROUNDING, THE TRUSTY SIDEKICK
Grounding, the trusty, yet just as important sidekick, is also silently keeping the patrons of the pool safe, day after day. Grounding power acts in conjunction with Bonding, using the safety loop created by the bonding process, and adds a connection to the ground. This ground connection ensures that any harmful current within the loop is directed away from the swimmers and into the ground, where it dissipates and disappears harmlessly.
A POWERFUL SUPER DUO
Bonding and Grounding, when properly implemented into the design and construction of a pools system, will continue to act in conjunction with one another, forming one of the most powerful safety duo’s within the pools natatorium, keeping the evil Electrical Shock at bay. Next time you're in a pool, enjoying your swim, listen closely. If you hear a faint tune, it may just be the theme song to the undefeatable super duo of Bonding and Grounding, quietly and courageously continuing the never ending fight with Electrical Shock, keeping the people of the pool safe for years to come!
* This is a guest blog post written by Lee Battams, President of Aqua Plans Aquatic Consultants Inc. The knowledge and experience Lee displays on routine site visits have ensured his clients, including Acapulco Pools, remain confident in his abilities in aquatic design.
There are many different systems and options when considering how to heat your swimming pool. Location, pool size and the desired temperature all affect which option is best for your facility. This blog introduces you to the various pool heating solutions available and the important factors to consider in order to make an informed decision.
NATURAL GAS, PROPANE & ELECTRIC POOL HEATERS
Natural gas and propane pool heaters are still very common and have become increasingly more energy efficient, which we all know is good news for the environment but also for the pocket book of the person or facility paying for the fuel. These are great options depending on the availability of the desired fuel in the location of the swimming pool. For example, a swimming pool in the city will no doubt have access to either natural gas or propane, however a rural swimming pool will have to look into which option is available and at what cost. If neither natural gas nor propane is available for a reasonable and affordable cost, an electric pool heater may be the solution. As anyone who has had to pay electricity bill on their own knows, electricity does not come cheap. In this case, there are other, more affordable options available such as a heat pump, solar heating system, or even a wood fired boiler used in conjunction with a heat exchanger, all of which will be discussed more below.
BOILERS, WOOD FIRED BOILERS & HEAT EXCHANGERS
Boilers used in conjunction with a heat exchanger are another common method used to heat a swimming pool. A typical boiler is gas fired and used to heat the entire building, so tying it into a heat exchanger to heat the pool is a great idea. Again, location determines whether this option is viable depending on the availability and cost of fuel, either natural gas or propane. The boiler must be sized properly for this however; therefore consulting with a professional pool designer at the beginning stages of design and throughout is always a good idea to make sure there are no problems when the facility is constructed.
Wood fired boilers are a great option for a facility that has the outdoor space for it, as well as an abundance of wood to burn. Campgrounds, for example, typically have a lot of fire wood handy from cutting down trees to make campsites, wood left behind by campers, etc. So why not make use of it? In this case, a wood fired boiler connected to a heat exchanger is an extremely feasible option to heat the swimming pool. Keeping the fire stoked throughout the day and night is an important factor to consider before making your decision. Facilities like campgrounds are normally fully staffed throughout the summer season with employees who can handle the task. Delegating this job to an employee who will treat it as their baby and never let the fire die will ensure happy campers all season long!
A heat pump is an environmentally friendly option; however its effectiveness depends on the location of the swimming pool. Heat pumps will only work well in an environment with warm air to utilize. Operating much more efficiently than a natural gas, oil or an electric pool heater, a heat pump can show big monetary rewards in areas with high natural or propane gas costs. To run this efficiently, the heat pump extracts the heat from the air, intensifies the heat with a compressor, delivers the heat to the water, and exhausts the cooler air out the top of the unit. Since it uses the warm ambient air temperature to do the work, it is a very efficient way to heat water.
SOLAR POOL HEATING
A solar pool heating system is a great way to make use of the energy provided by the sun and save money with regards to heating a pool. A typical solar heating system has a “collector”, which is the system that the water circulates through, to warm it up using the sun’s energy. The water is pushed through the collector by the pool pump, which has to be sized properly to account for the extra work it has to do in comparison to a pool that does not use solar heating. Generally, the water that comes from the pool is first sent through a strainer, which removes any debris that may be present in the water that could damage or clog the pump and filter. Then, the water goes through the pump into the filter, where smaller impurities are filtered out. Once the water is filtered, it is sent into the solar “collector”, which is usually a series of tubes on a southern facing roof to heat the water inside of them. The warm water is then returned to the pool. This system is ideal, but its effectiveness depends on the location of the pool geographically. The system, as with any other pool heating system, must be sized properly for it to function as desired.
As always, it is best to consult with a professional pool consultant when considering a pool heating option for a new or existing facility.
2 Resolutions that will Improve Your Aquatic Facility
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
January is the month of resolutions. We plan to live a healthier lifestyle, be more financially responsible, and visit with friends and family more often (among others). But what about our aquatic facilities? Improving safety and becoming more environmentally friendly are two resolutions that your facility can make this and every year. The following are ways that your facility can do both:
PLAY IT SAFE
Safety should always be the highest priority at any facility. Improvements can always be made to increase the safety of your pool staff and patrons.
Stay up to date on new changes in codes and policies.
Ensure your staff is equipped and trained on the proper regulations and requirements.
Train your staff (pool managers, lifeguards, operators etc.) in the basics of commercial pool operating and general swimming pool knowledge. This includes chemical testing, accident prevention and the emergency protocols used at your facility.
Ensure all of your staff remains current and up-to-date in all required training (CPR, first aid, CPO etc.)
Inspect all of your safety equipment and keep an up-to-date inventory throughout the year. Safety and pool equipment can age, rust, and become damaged over time. It’s important to be aware of any equipment that needs to be replaced before an accident occurs. Equipment can include first aid kits, spine boards, life rings, safety rope, fire extinguishers, warning signs, deck equipment.
Perform an annual slide inspection. As water slides age they can rust, or become damaged. It is necessary to have a licensed water slide technician inspect the slide to protect and ensure the safety of the users.
When changes are made at your aquatic facility, it is important to update your staff. This includes pool managers, operators, lifeguards, aquatic instructors and anyone else who works in the aquatic centre.
KEEP IT GREEN
Today, everyone seems to be going green in some way. The importance in becoming environmentally friendly has shifted the way we live our lives, and the way we conduct business each day. Not only does going green provide environmental benefits, but green efforts can also lower your operating costs.
Make the switch to environmentally friendly products and replace old equipment with new, energy efficient equipment. This solution will not only improve your facilities impact on the environment, but will also benefit your budget.
Installing a Variable Frequency Drive (I-Pool VFD) can save you $7,000 - $10,000 a year.
Installing an Ultraviolet System decreases chemical usage by 20%.
Reduce chemical use at your facility. Water that is maintained properly and consistently can lessen pool water issues and chemical treatments.
Use an environmentally friendly liquid “pool cover” to decrease chemical usage and save on operating costs by reducing evaporation and heat loss.
Repair any existing leaks and service balance tanks to ensure they are operating properly.
Most pool owners and operators have heard the term VGB compliant as it relates to main drains in swimming pools, and may have heard of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act that was brought into legislation in the United States.
As a member of her community swim and diving team, Virginia Graeme Baker was a strong swimmer who could swim unassisted at only 3 years old. Despite this, Virginia (called Graeme by her family) died in a spa (hot tub) after becoming trapped on the single main drain fitting of the spa, even with the frantic efforts of her mother, Nancy Baker to release her from the drain. Eventually, two men were able to release Graeme from the drain, but exerted so much force that the main drain fitting was actually broken in the process. At the very young age of 7 years, Virginia Graeme Baker died from drowning as a result of becoming entrapped on the main drain fitting of the spa.
MAIN DRAINS & THE RISKS
The danger of a single main drain in a pool or spa cannot be overstated; when a single main drain is covered and is the sole source of suction for a pump, a tremendous hold-down force is exerted on the person covering the main drain fitting. For a typical residential pool or spa with an 8” round drain, the hold-down force can be in the order of 739 pounds! Even the strongest person would be unable to overcome this kind of force. The larger the surface area of the drain the greater the force, even if the same pump is used. For a 9”x9” main drain, the force will be about 1191 pounds, and for a 12” x 12” main drain the force will be a whopping 2117 pounds! This is approximately the same weight as a skidof bricks! But becoming entrapped by the suction is only one of the dangers of an improper drain installation. People can also become eviscerated if they sit on an improper drain, or become entangled (hair and jewelry) if the velocity of water through the drain is too high, or the drain openings are improperly designed.
Following Graeme’s death, Nancy Baker worked tirelessly as an advocate for pool safety and through the political clout of her father-in-law, former Secretary of State, James Baker III, and in association with Safe Kids Worldwide, lobbies to congress to bring into law the mandatory use of anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices and methods.
Use VGB Compliant Main Drain Covers
Perhaps the most important change was the nature of the drain cover itself. Main drain covers are now required to be VGB compliant, meaning that they have a shape and openings that have been designed to dramatically decrease the likelihood of a person becoming entrapped. The drains are also sized for different flow rates so that the velocity of water moving through the surface of the grate does not exceed 1.5 feet per second. This low velocity decreases the likelihood that things like hair will be drawn into the grate creating an entanglement problem.
Use Multiple Main Drains
Another important safety measure in pools and spas is to never have a single main drain. In Canada, it is law that every public pool and spa have at least two main drains, and that these be spaced apart from each other by at least four feet (1.2m). If one drain fitting is blocked, the water has another path to go though (the other drain fitting) so that an ‘absolute’ vacuum cannot be achieved.
Use a Safety Vacuum Release System
Finally, another measure to improve main drain safety is the use of Safety Vacuum Release Systems (SVRS). These devices are installed on the suction side of the pump(s) and are designed to eliminate the suction force of the pump. There are generally two types (mechanical and electrical) which are designed to sense excessive suction and act to relieve this suction. Electrical units work by shutting of the pump, and mechanical systems work by allowing air to enter the pump so that it loses suction.
Swimming pools and spas provide a tremendous amount of fun, leisure, exercise and therapeutic benefits to families, the public and patients. But we have to always remember that pools are really machines designed for our aquatic needs, and like all machines, pools have inherent dangers that have to be managed. For decades, we drove cars without the benefit of seatbelts, airbags and so many other safety features. At one time, we didn’t even have windshield wipers! Thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Baker after her loss of Graeme, properly designed pools and spas are now safer than they have ever been.
Click here for more information on Virginia Graeme Baker, what you can do to prevent entrapment and other tragedies or to read the Pool and Spa Safety Act.
What is Ultraviolet (UV) & How it is Applied to Swimming Pools?
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
The strong smell of chlorine within an aquatic facility is not a sign that the pool or spa is clean. It's actually a signal that there is something wrong. Luckily, there is an application that can be added to your swimming pool recirculation system to help correct this issue, and create a safer and more enjoyable swimming experience - An Ultraviolet (UV) system.
From a hydrotherapy spa to the largest Olympic-sized competition pool, UV sanitation systems are quickly becoming (or have already become, in some municipalities) the most popular method of additional water treatment in the aquatic industry. UV not only destroys chloramines, the unpleasant by-products of chlorination, but it is also a highly effective disinfectant (although the need for chlorine is reduced with the use of a UV system, it is still needed to ensure proper disinfection).
Chloramines are formed when free chlorine reacts with sweat, urine, and other contaminants in pool water. Trichloramines, in particular, are powerful irritants which are responsible for eye and respiratory complaints and the unpleasant ‘chlorine smell’ commonly associated with indoor pools. Chloramines are also corrosive to the surrounding area, and in time can lead to damage to pool accessories, buildings and structures, such as railings, ladders, and ventilation ducts. Any water treatment system that reduces these unwanted conditions is therefore welcome.
UV harnesses the power of ultraviolet light to eliminate microorganisms, lower chemical usage, and eliminate toxic by-products.
WHAT IS UV?
UV is a highly efficient, natural disinfectant that nutralizes virtually all known microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and molds and their spores, by permanently destroying their DNA.
Ultraviolet light is a naturally occurring component of sunlight. It falls in the region between visible light and X-ray in the electromagnetic spectrum. The mechanism of UV disinfection is strong sunlight that disinfects water by permanently de-activating bacteria, spores, moulds and viruses.
These systems reproduce UV radiation inside light chambers via powerful lamps, which emit germicidal UV-C light that is used to disinfect pool and spa water.
UV-C causes permanent damage to a number of microorganisms almost instantly as the water circulates through the light chamber. By disrupting the microorganism’s DNA, protozoans, viruses and bacteria are unable to replicate and remain inert. This light, however, works only on water that flows through the chamber.
HOW IS UV APPLIED TO SWIMMING POOLS?
Ultraviolet is a recommended application that can be added to any swimming pool. However, it should only be used as a secondary pool water disinfectant. A primary disinfectant, such as chlorine or bromine, still needs to be used at all times. Chlorine/bromine have a very important property which UV lacks – the ability to provide a residual level of disinfectant in the pool water contained within the tank itself. This means chlorine/bromine can remain in the pool water actively attacking pathogens at the moment they are introduced, whereas a UV system can only disinfect the water that passes through the UV chamber within the pools recirculation system. Once the water has left the chamber, it is vulnerable to be re-infected by swimmers.
UV systems are particularly suited to both chloramine destruction and disinfection. The resulting effect is a cleaner, healthier, and more pleasant atmosphere both in and around the pool. The potential dangers caused by Trichloramines are significantly reduced, and the danger of infection by harmful microorganisms is also eliminated.
There are a variety of considerations to be taken into account when choosing an Ultra Violet system and different lamps are used in different applications. The nature of the decision can be quite detailed, making it important to find the right swimming pool professional who can assist in finding the right application for you and your aquatic facility.
Movable floors and bulkheads are becoming more common in aquatic facilities throughout North America. Although they offer similar benefits to an aquatic centre, there is a big difference between the two options.
Movable floors change the depth of the swimming pool water, while bulkheads act as a divider in the pool. Adding a movable floor and/or bulkhead will create endless opportunities for many different programs and activities within one body of water. Imagine the difference a movable floor or bulkhead could make in your swimming pool!
With a movable floor system the programming opportunities at your aquatic centre expand; traditionally you would need numerous bodies of water to offer these types of programming:
Swimming lessons (0.5M-1.2M)
Lane Swim (1.1M-1.35M)
Synchronized Swimming (2.0M-3.0M)
Water Polo (1.8M minimum)
Aqua Cycle (1.0M-1.2M)
Water Walking Programs (1.2M-1.5M)
Physical Rehabilitation (Beach entry or 0.5M-1.5M)
Competition Training (1.2M-1.5M)
The photo above shows the movable floor at the new Guildford Recreation Centre in Surrey, B.C where the water depth changes several times a day in order to accommodate various programs at the facility.
The addition of a bulkhead at your facility can allow you to accommodate many different programs and activities individually or simultaneously! Large, single activity pools can be divided easily to create separate swimming areas for:
Swimming lessons, fitness programs and other aquatic classes
Swimming competitions, water polo competitions and other sports events
Diving and synchronized swimming
Other special aquatic programs
The photo above shows the bulkhead installation in action at the Roosevelt Park Pool in Rapid City, South Dakota. The facility includes a 10-lane, 50M outdoor pool and when the Bulkhead is in the middle park position, the pool transforms into a 20-lane pool! This pool also features water polo courses for both men and women.
MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE
When choosing a movable floor or bulkhead manufacturer, it is important to consider the following:
What is the installation time and complexity of the bulkhead/movable floor?
Is the operation of the bulkhead/movable floor easy and user-friendly?
Are the maintenance and service costs low?
Are the metal parts made of non-corrosive 316 stainless steel or special bronze?
Does the bulkhead/movable floor offer an aesthetically pleasing appearance?
Movable floors and bulkheads offer the ultimate aquatic versatility for your facility. The addition of a movable floor to a swimming pool can make it simultaneously a deep diving pool, a child friendly shallow depth pool or a mid-depth pool for exercise and water games. The addition of a bulkhead can transform a large single activity pool into separate swimming areas for classes, sports events, or special activities. Installing a movable floor or bulkhead will increase water usage and maximize the swimming pools potential. One pool with unlimited possibilities!
There are a lot of considerations when selecting a swimming pool contractor to build your pool. Whether the project is a high-end residential project or a multimillion dollar waterpark, it is important to be very diligent in selecting the builder to avoid delays, cost overruns, improper construction and lots of headaches. But what things should be considered?
WHAT DOES THEIR SAFETY RECORD LOOK LIKE?
The safety record of a company should be a primary consideration. A company with a poor safety record attracts a lot of attention (not the kind they want) and can really bog down a project. In fact, a project can be put on hold for an extended period if there are glaring safety infractions or heaven forbid a serious injury or fatality on the job site. Ask the proponent for a copy of their Health and Safety Policy, and safety record. If they don’t have one, or are unwilling to provide information, move on.
PRICE ISN'T EVERYTHING
Price, while always an important consideration is not everything. We frequently hear our clients say “…I wish we had gone with the more reputable builder. This job has become a nightmare…” The saying “you get what you pay for” could not be truer. If the price seems too good to be true, it is. There is no such thing as an extraordinary $7 bottle of wine, and there is no such thing as an inexpensive Bugatti car. The two things are mutually exclusive. The Bugatti and a K-car will both take you to the store, but the Bugatti will take you to the store for decades (and look really good doing it!), and there is no comparing the quality of the two. The same is true in pools. You can choose a method and a builder that may appear to save you a little coin but suffer endless change orders and additions to the project. Or you can spend that little extra bit of money to hire a thorough and reputable builder and have peace of mind for years to come.
DO THEY HAVE A STRONG FOUNDATION?
Like a strong building, a strong company needs a strong foundation. In the construction business, this foundation is in the form of knowledge that is both deep and wide, and can only be acquired from years of experience specific to the industry. A newer business just doesn’t have the history to be as knowledgeable as a well-established company that has been around for a long time. In the experienced company, there are senior people and younger members of the team. There is a combination of high energy and drive and a deep well of information that was developed over decades of practice. The thing about knowledge is that it is often applicable to a wide variety of applications that help experienced builders provide the best outcome for the client. Hydraulic concepts in pools and water management for example, are often applicable to electricity where Voltage equates to Feet of Head and current flow to velocity. Companies who have a deeper knowledge in their art have a broader understanding of the many things they may encounter in performing their work. Look for contractors who have a broad range of experience over a long period of time, senior people who have “been around the block” a couple of times and young energetic and well educated project people.
DO THEY HAVE INTERNAL SYSTEMS IN PLACE?
It is a great thing to have knowledge, but if it is held by a few individuals it often fails to crystalize in the positive outcome of your project. Good companies develop internal systems that reflect the Best Practices that have been developed out of the knowledge gained from experience. It is these companies who seek to establish a culture of quality and caring expressed in writing the form of standard operating procedures. Ask your potential contractor if they have internal systems in place to support quality assurance, delivery, and value added designs, longevity of the product, and so on. A company with systems is a company that cares about what they do, and who they do it for. Also ask if the company has a Mission Statement. The Mission Statement is the guiding philosophy of the company. A company without a mission is like a pilot without a map. Yes, the plane is flying…but the destination is dicey.
WHAT IS THEIR EXPERIENCE LEVEL?
The Record of Experience speaks volumes about the knowledge base of the company. Obviously, the more pools a company has built, the more experience they have. But it is also important to look at the different types of pools that a company has built. Not all pool builders build all pools, and sometimes for good reason. For example, Company ABC may be an advocate for cast-in-place pools through their limited knowledge and experience; they know how to build them, but nothing else. Concrete pools are really good and are considered the gold standard in the industry, however, there are times when another type of pool is more appropriate than a concrete pool. If the pool is going on the top floor of a high rise, weight may be a limiting parameter. It is important to find a builder who has the experience to recognize and understand your options and what best suits your needs. Ask your potential builders for their list of projects (current and complete) and also for a list of references. If the record of experience is small or limited in scope, you may want to look a little deeper into the company. If the reference list seems small compared to the record of experience, it should raise a red flag! A good contractor doesn’t maintain a specific reference list…every single client should be a reference.
DO THEY USE THEIR OWN FORCES?
If the builder you are looking at using has a lot of subcontractors, it may be worth looking a little further. Dividing the scope into different trade subcontracts (mechanical subs, waterproofing, tile, concrete etc.) dilutes and displaces responsibility of the trades and of the general contractor. When something goes wrong, it’s nobody’s fault, and it’s everyone’s fault. A great deal of time is spent trying to figure out if the waterproofing contractor caused the leak, or if the tile contractor damaged the waterproofing. Or maybe the concrete contractor is at fault. It is best to source a contractor who self-performs the entire pool scope with their own forces from the excavation, to mechanical and electrical work, to tile setting and commissioning and training. When there is only one company performing the entire scope for the work, there is no opportunity to cast blame for problems to others. You only have one phone call to make.
ARE THEY FINANCIALLY STABLE?
The financial stability of the company is also an important consideration. Are they able to completely bond a large project? Often tender documents ensure that this is the case, but private projects may overlook the need. What happens if things go wrong, or the contractor walks off the job or goes bankrupt? Who will finish the job? Who will pay for the work? Also, you want to be sure that the company you select is going to be around tomorrow and for years to come. Of course, there is never a guaranty but the best predictor of the future, is a record of the past. If the company has been building great pools for decades, they are likely to be around for a long time to come.
DO THEY HAVE A SERVICE DEPARTMENT?
Once the pool is built, you are away to the races. But what if something goes wrong with the pool after a few years? Who will close the pool for winter? It is always best of the company you choose to build the pool also has a service department who can deal with any problems and to perform regular maintenance. The service department of the company who built the pool is best equipped to service the pool since they will have an intimate knowledge of the pool from the construction phase. There are many “pool builders” out there who actually have no idea how to best operate a pool, and have no service department. It is best to steer clear of these builders. Once the project is complete, you never see them again.
CAN THEY PERFORM?
Finally, schedule can be critical, especially for commercial projects. Liquidated damages can cripple a business that was counting on opening the pool in December, but it didn’t happen until the following May. There has been more than a few projects abandoned or sold for pennies on the dollar as poor performing contractors drove the owner into insolvency. No builder is perfect or immune to making mistakes…things happen. What sets the premium builder apart from others is how they react to the problems. The only way to know how different builders react is to speak with their past clients. Don’t accept a short list of “preferred references”. It is a lot of work to fully research your builder, but it will pay dividends many times over in the long run.
A well-constructed pool delivered on time and on budget will provide decades of enjoyment, or in the case of a commercial project, revenue generation. The best start to this positive outcome is to balance all of these considerations discussed, and make a good decision.
Following construction, the commissioning of the pool system is critical to ensure that it is working properly and as it was designed, before handing over the operation of the pool to its Owner. These are the people who will be operating and maintaining their body of water on a daily basis.
During commissioning, all pieces of equipment are started-up, run, and programmed. I have learned first-hand how important it is to allow for the proper amount of time for this to occur. Allowing a few weeks to complete the commissioning ensures that each piece of equipment has enough time to operate as designed. If anything goes wrong it can be rectified immediately.
The set-up of the system begins when the water is introduced into the pool. Once the water starts to run through the piping, it is also running through each piece of equipment that is required to operate the system. Here are a few examples of equipment that requires set up;
The chemical controller, which monitors and reads the pools chemistry, requires some initial set up. The controllers parameters are set to ensure that if the chemistry is not within those parameters, the controller alarms to alert the operator that the water chemistry requires attention. This can take time to complete to ensure accuracy.
After the pump is started up, it should be allowed to run for a period of time to ensure that there are no leaks. Seals in a pump can be dry and cracked before the pump is even installed. You won’t be able to physically see this issue until the water is running through the system.
Those are just two examples of the numerous pieces of equipment that are involved in pool systems, most of which require set up. There is always a possibility that equipment can fail, so ensuring everything is commissioned by the time the system is fully operational means less chance of equipment or system failure. When there is a failure after the pool is fully operational, it could mean that the pool would have to be shut down and closed to its patrons. This is something that all Owners want to avoid at all costs.
Once the pool is completely commissioned, it is now the perfect time to train those individuals who will be operating the pool on a daily basis. Every pool system is different, so even if a person has experience with pool systems, the new system could be slightly different. A controller could be updated from the previous version, or the system could include a UV system that the Operator has no previous experience with.
Training sessions cover many techniques including:
How the piping system flows
How to operate the controller
Understanding what can go wrong
What to do if the pool overflows
How to adjust chemistry of the pool
What to do if the system equipment is in alarm
Allowing those people the opportunity to watch and learn through a hands-on training session has amazing benefits for them in the future operation of the pool. When Operators have the understanding and knowledge that they need, their confidence level is increased, allowing them to maintain the system properly, and promptly deal with any issues that may arise, shortening their down time.
As you can see, commissioning and training benefits all parties involved in the operation of the pool system. The time for this to occur should be considered in every construction schedule.